by Tawna Brown
Lazing on a giant floating mat, with the warm waters of the South Pacific Ocean caressing my body, I couldn’t help but be pleased with how well I orchestrated this very moment. I managed to escape the frigid Canadian winter (at temperatures of – 40 Fahrenheit) and am now sailing on a majestic four-masted 360-foot private yacht, with the sun’s rays recharging me like a solar panel.
For the next 7 nights, my temporary home will be aboard Windstar’s luxury sailing yacht Wind Spirit, as it meanders through French Polynesia’s Society Islands (Papeete, Moorea, Tahaa, Raiatea, Huahine, and Bora Bora).
Typically, cruises of this type attract couples and an older demographic. As a solo (younger) woman traveler, I was a bit apprehensive as I checked in, wondering if I would feel lonely or fit in with the other guests. I quickly learned however, there was nothing “typical” about Windstar Cruises. The apprehension disappeared within moments of arrival!
Wind Spirit has a guest to crew ratio of 1.5 to 1, with a maximum guest capacity of 148. During this particular sailing, there were only 98 guests, which meant we were well attended to. I’m guessing that the average guest age was 50, ranging from a newly married couple in their late 20s, to a group of repeat cruisers in their late 70s. I also discovered that I wasn’t the only solo traveler. Throughout the voyage, this small group of international guests intermingled and new friendships were formed daily.
Windstar promises guests an experience that is “180 degrees from ordinary” and the Dreams of Tahiti cruise lived up to that promise every nautical mile! The staff were attentive and genuine from the moment I walked down the red carpet when boarding the yacht. Their beaming smiles and jovial personalities made me feel so welcomed! First names become the norm and you are treated like a very special guest. You need only say once how you like your coffee, how you prefer your omelettes and steaks prepared, and whether you like a margarita blended or on the rocks.
After finishing a nightcap, what a pleasure it was to cocoon in my own recently renovated stateroom. The rooms are beautifully appointed and well-designed, providing ample living and storage space. I was pleasantly surprised with the special touches in the room, including L’Occitane toiletries, a Bose sound dock, a fruit plate, fresh flowers, and even a daily news report tailored to my home country!
While Wind Spirit doesn’t have stateroom balconies, I had no difficulty in finding private nooks throughout the yacht that allow for solitude. I often found myself sitting on the veranda or the upper deck, absorbed in a book or catching up in my journal.
Early risers will feel they have the yacht to themselves yet again. I took great pleasure in waking up between 5-5:30am, when I would head to the upper deck or the Bridge with my cup of coffee and take in the best view of the Tahitian sunrise. I felt like it was my very own private sunrise!
THINGS TO DO
While small in comparison to a megaship, Wind Spirit offers guests a variety of activities on board; there is always something going on. The yacht has a small outdoor plunge pool and hot tub, small fitness room, casino and library, a spa and hair salon and yoga classes. There is also the Watersports Platform, where you can go kayaking, paddle boarding, and swimming right off the back of the yacht. There are two dining restaurants, a third restaurant on the veranda for breakfast and lunch, and a lounge with live music.
Attend a seminar on Tahitian pearls, or get creative at the “Build Your Own Bloody Mary” station. One day we had local entertainment on board (“the Mamas and Papas”), with traditional Polynesian music, dancing, and lei-making lessons (not easy!) This was most enjoyable!
Foodies pay attention! If you’re interested in how your delicious meals are prepared and where the ingredients comes from, join the Chef on a galley tour and learn about the strict standards and procedures in the kitchen and how the menu is set. You can join the Chef on a tour at a local market, where he explains how he acquires and selects the fresh local ingredients at each stop during the cruise. You’ll even get to taste a variety of freshly cut fruit, such as breadfruit, pineapple, passion fruit, mango, and finger bananas. You certainly won’t get this kind of experience aboard a megaship!
One of the many highlights of the Dreams of Tahiti cruise is the complimentary Destination Discovery Event on Motu Tapu, a tiny islet across from Bora Bora. Guests are shuttled to the island in a little boat, where they are welcomed with a fragrant tiare lei and a cocktail served in a coconut. The evening included a beautiful sunset, a mouth-watering feast fit for a Tahitian king and queen, and a jaw-dropping performance by Polynesian musicians and fire dancers.
PORTS OF CALL
The yacht stops at each of the Society Islands, allowing guests to explore the islands on their own or select from a choice of pre-arranged excursions, such as an active hike, pearl farm visit, a cultural trek to sacred sites, and coral garden drift snorkelling.
One of the excursions I chose was a helicopter tour of Bora Bora! While pricey, at $350USD for a 15-minute tour, as a photographer, I wanted to capture my very own quintessential postcard shot of Bora Bora, and there was only one way to get that. My eyes were so overwhelmed by the intensity of the turquoise waters that I almost forgot to blink! If you have even the slightest interest (and if it’s not an overcast day), be sure to sign up, as no other excursion compares to this one!
You can’t visit the Society Islands without picking up a souvenir or two. Some of the most popular items you’ll find include a wide range of jewelry made with local seeds and the famous Tahitian (“black”) pearls, Tahitian vanilla products (sugar, pure extract, paste, pods), liqueurs made with local ingredients, pareos and tropical shirts, and Monoi de Tahiti body oil (coconut oil infused with Tiare flower essence). Note: After comparing the prices of pearls among all of the islands, I found the best prices (while not necessarily the best quality) at the main market in Papeete.
This journey was so far beyond my expectations. I had no complaints or suggestions for improvement. In fact, I needed additional paper for my comment card, as I wanted to thank the staff for the A-class service and memories. The emotional farewell began during the last night’s signature Sail Away as we headed back towards Papeete. Email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged and camera flashes lit up the pool deck.
Although I was traveling solo, it turned out that I was sharing this intimate and luxurious experience with the other guests and staff; never once did I feel alone or out of place. Seven days ago, I didn’t know one person on the yacht, and now, on the morning of disembarkation, my eyes were welling up with tears as I bid farewell to my new friends. This cruise was just as much about the journey as it was the destination. Aptly named, this adventure left me with lifelong “Dreams of Tahiti;” in fact, I’ve already booked flights to make another escape from the frigid winter temperatures! Until then, my Dreams of Tahiti will keep me going!
IF YOU GO
This may be a once-in-a-lifetime cruise for you or you may be a repeat cruiser. Either way, this journey will live on for years to come; and the memories and dreams will help you sail through those very cold winters! Extend your pre- or post-cruise stay by renting a villa on one of the islands and gain a better feeling for the slow-paced island life. Windstar’s cruise guests connect on a personal level with locals and like-minded travelers who appreciate the yachting life. Solo sailors are heartily welcomed on board whether traveling by themselves or as part of a larger group. With Windstar’s small ships (with no more than 310 passengers on board), you don’t get lost in the crowds as a solo traveler.
(Note: Original article published in Vacation Rental Travels Fall 2016 issue: http://vacationrentaltravels.com/2016-fall/)
About the Author:
“Tawna Brown is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (Canada’s western Arctic). She has an insatiable appetite for exploring the world and connecting with people and places. Having recently returned from a year-long solo round-the-world journey, she is already planning the next one! Join Tawna on her adventures at www.tawnabrown.com/blog.”